Tech Talk


There are countless innovations currently coming to market to help foodservice operators streamline tasks, improve customer service, or simply add a wow factor.

Mobile devices are becoming all things to restaurant owners and their patrons — whether it’s a pre-ordering and payment app, running a loyalty program or POS system, or engaging in more targeted marketing. Even appliances — from ovens to ventilation systems — can be managed from afar.

As a chef/consultant with B.C.-based ChefDBrown Ltd., Darren Brown has always been a technology buff. “Tech helps the industry in a huge way,” he says. “A lot of what’s out there helps open the doors for folks getting in over their heads.”

Kitchens are also heading to the Cloud for everything from POS and ordering to monitoring and recipe sharing, he adds. “We’re seeing more and more software integration for kitchen management.”

Here are some exciting tech offerings making waves in foodservice operations:

“Everything gets better and smarter in a digital world,” says Ray Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based Ritual, developers of an order-and-pay app for smaller businesses. “Ordering and paying is the first big step that will take you beyond the digital wallet. We’ve seen the first wave with Starbucks and soon every QSR will be doing it.”

He cautions that anyone getting into the order-and-pay game needs to have the infrastructure to support it so they don’t lose their regular clientele. “There’s a store in New York called Sweet Greens that at 12:30 p.m. has a wall with five shelves holding about 130 pickup orders. That’s a great example of the system working well.”

For Chad Salyn, general manager of Last Best Brewing & Distilling in Calgary, three apps play a key part in running the company’s four restaurant operations (the other sites are Jasper Brewing Company, Wood Buffalo Brewing Company and Banff Avenue Brewing Company). The first is OpenTable Guest Centre, which has recently launched a Cloud-based version. “We switched to [this] app because we can have instant knowledge of our reservations and it’s easily accessible. The information we get lets us target promotional opportunities, drive sales and find out when we need to increase staffing levels.”

He also utilizes a Micros in Motion app for monitoring restaurant sales in real-time, including large voids, labour costs and staff performance. “It lets me keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on.” His third pick is Optimum Control, a restaurant-based inventory app to help monitor spending and usage. “That really helps to keep our costs under control.”

John Lettieri, president of Hero Certified Burgers in Toronto, says this year will see a big push for mobile apps. He’s working with his POS provider, Mississauga, Ont.-based ABS, to expand into mobile payment and loyalty apps this summer. “We see it as a tool to communicate with customers more through direct couponing, ordering and payment processing. The technology just gets easier and cheaper as it grows,” he says.

Gino Di Domenico, managing partner for Tacofino in Vancouver, relies on apps like Nowait Host, a restaurant waitlist and table-management app to text customers waiting for tables and quickly check status for his bricks-and-mortar locations. “We also use the Lavu iPad POS system designed for smaller restaurants. It offers Cloud for reporting which makes things so much easier as we expand, because we can get reports on a daily basis.”

But, is the app world getting to be too much? Not if restaurateurs play their cards right, Reddy says. “A lot of merchants can spend thousands on new apps and devices, but if they don’t know the value they’re getting or [don’t] use it, then it won’t deliver a return on investment. That’s one of the biggest challenges of new technology.”

Mobile apps may be getting most of the attention these days, but temperature-monitoring tools are also reaping the rewards of new tech and apps.

Danny Collis, president Collis Group Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont., says while they may not be the most exciting item on a checklist, temperature-monitoring tools are becoming essential in keeping things on track from a health-and-safety perspective. “Some temperature-monitoring systems are very inexpensive and can save a lot of labour. A kitchen with four walk-in refrigerators, for example could be rigged for about $1,500.”

NotifEye, for example, is a wireless temperature-monitoring system for walk-in or reach-in boxes that also sends alerts to a mobile phone. The data not only keeps managers up-to-speed on health-and-safety guidelines, the program will send notices via an internet gateway.

With the HACCP Manager from Cooper-Atkins, a handheld data collection instrument for recording food temperatures, data can be downloaded to a computer for reporting and analysis. “It’s a huge labour savings versus printing off a sheet. In one large chain operation test environment, it has proven to save 1.5 to two hours a day,” Collis says.

As a contracted producer of nutritional meals to the child-care community in Toronto, Food for Tots takes food temperature measurement very seriously. Alan Toong, production manager, says the Marathon Products EDL-RTD2 high temperature data logger is a critical tool they can’t do without. “Food safety is a huge factor for us so we use the handheld logger to measure temperature all the way from production to transport.”

One “really cool” area of innovation is on the sous-vide side, says Brown. “Anova came out with an affordable circulator that starts at about $200. It’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled and can be controlled completely with your phone — you just give it the parameters for cooking and remotely start the machine.”

The low cost makes it an ideal option for small franchises and protein cooking, he says. “You can get a couple for a countertop without adding hood fans. Joule is introducing an even more compact sous-vide circulator that is also mobile-enabled.”

A new tea lounge project in Vancouver’s Yaletown will be among the first to showcase an innovative tower tea brewing system from Alpha Dominche. Brown describes it as an old-school espresso maker in style, but the boilers underneath can be controlled by an iPhone or iPad. “If you want your water at 61 degrees, you can get there in precisely 90 seconds,” he says.

With so many options to consider when it comes to technology, Brown’s advice is to take a deep breath, sit back and see how things work over the longer term. “I’m a big fan of trialing new gadgets with the proviso it may not be the right solution. The key is learning if something works at the foundation level and build up from there.”

Volume 49, Number 4
Written By Denise Deveau

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